So here I am, three weeks into my adventure. I’ll probably write about an aspect of teaching sometime soon, as I’ve been in the job for long enough to share a few thoughts. But this week, I’m just going to talk about exploring the local area.
PART 1- MONDAY
Taking a different exit than usual from Hiroshima Station on Monday morning, I spotted a silver dome high on a ridge near me.
I didn’t have any particular plans, so I made a beeline for the slope, stopping at the 17th Century Kokuzen-ji Temple which was founded by the local daimyo Asana Mitsuakira’s wife Jishoin. The two-storey temple gate with its upper balcony and bell-shaped windows is one of the most elegant I’ve seen.
I continued up the ridge, which got steadily steeper. By this point of the day it was touching 35° C and I was quickly drenched in sweat and a little out of breath. On two occasions, men in their sixties *at least* jogged past me, looking relatively content. I hated both of them.
The last part of the (short) climb was a steep staircase, flanked on either side by an ascending series of platforms, each of them topped by a neat line of graves. I can’t say I’ve ever thought too much about it, but… man, what a place to be remembered. At the top of the stairs, the Futabayama Peace Pagoda stood, a metallic dome slightly resembling a missile and containing a golden Buddha within its wall. The dome was one of at least eighty built by Nichidatsu Fujii and a group of pacifist Buddhist monks in the years following world war two. As such, it’s a piece of Hiroshima’s history, but in all honesty I was more focused on the views.
For all that the views were remarkable, the walk back down the hill through the forest was better. The woods were thick with small shrines. Some were simply tiny vermillion replica houses with ‘sliding doors’, jagged paper decorations and offering bowls. The most breathtaking was sat on a boulder on an exposed platform which offered a view of the city stretching out below.
The last stretch of the walk was marked by a cascade of red torii, dozens of them surrounding the pathway. Amid the bright greens of summer, the combination of colours makes everything feel saturated with light. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the most captivating places I’ve been. Kinko Inari shrine also flooded the world with colour, splashed with orange, yellow and red. It’s certainly a contrast with the studied austerity of Protestant churches. I made my way back to the road and rushed off to get ramen, feeling just a little bit changed.
PART 2- FRIDAY
I still don’t really know people yet, and so with my Thursday night plans cancelled, I woke up at a reasonable time on Friday morning and set out to do some more exploring. It’s fair to say that I was right about Itsukaichi- it is peak suburbia. There are tidy hedges and lacy net curtains everywhere, and there’s an enormous garden centre-homeware complex reminiscent of any edge of town shopping mall. Some things don’t change.
Looking for the main road, I stumbled across a park with a circle of benches partially sheltered from the sun. Past the park was a brace of underpasses- in the second, I saw an extremely rare burst of unapproved graffiti, which was startling because I’d become so used to graffiti everywhere in Bristol, and yet I’d not particularly noticed its absence in Japan. Whoever scrawled ‘raw hype’ on the wall of a small suburban underpass, I salute you, but honestly I’m not sure it gels with the vibe of Itsukaichi. Through the underpass, I came face-to-face with a single beach hut and an open gate that led to a small, completely empty beach.
There’s a Los Campesinos! song* which swells to a raucous, clattering climax with the repeated lyric ‘I can’t believe I chose the mountains every time you chose the sea’. The line always stuck with me, and left me pondering without a clear verdict. Today, in an instant I had the answer.
Objectively, the beach at Mizudorinohama is nothing special. A thin strip of sand fringes the sea, and a couple of rocky islands are hazily visible in the distance. An obvious abundance of large fish aside, it was a scrappy sort of place- it’s never going to end up in any guidebook. It’s just that the sea has an instant and deeply felt relaxing effect on me, swallowing up stress and making everything else feel far away.
The mountains mean ruggedness, isolation and independence, sure. They speak of stateless human lives lived free of outside interference. I’ve moved to a country that’s full of mountains and beaches, and I hope to do some proper exploration of both the highlands and the coastlines, and hopefully some climbing, before the year is out. But the sea stands for exploration, and trade, and communication. It’s a demarcation line but also a highway, and for most of human history it was how people travelled. I took off my shoes, walked a few steps across the beach, and wet my feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever.